Skiing a Circle- Yosemite Valley to Tuolumne Meadows and Back

Discussion about winter adventure sports in the Sierra Nevada mountains including but not limited to; winter backpacking and camping, mountaineering, downhill and cross-country skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, etc.
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Harlen
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Skiing a Circle- Yosemite Valley to Tuolumne Meadows and Back

Post by Harlen » Fri Apr 03, 2020 2:09 am

Since we're semi-grounded now, I thought I'd unearth some old photos Frank finally sent to me from one of our Yosemite spring ski trips about 6 years ago.  It's a ski trip that we'd like to repeat, now that there's a lot more snow!  We did this tour too late in the Spring of 2015, and that winter had been a very average season for snowfall... and we waited a bit, no-- way too long to get up there.   In fact, it was so bad that when we emerged from the slopes above Snow Creek Flat onto Hwy 120, we found a road that had just been plowed!!  [insert small amount of cursing here.]  The giant D-6 snow-plows were parked by Olmstead Pt., and It would seem that their engines were still warm!  They had made it all the way to the far side of Tenaya Lake that very day!! ...  the sodding, bleeding B@$+@#&$!  (My Brit friend Frank curses in Yorkshire dialect)   Frank trudged along the new road, while I made a valiant (read- desperate) effort to balance my skinny skis on the leftover cutbank at the uphill edge of the road.  We were tired by Tenaya Lake, having had a good time earlier in the day, actually skiing on snow along the crest of Mt. Watkins. That was on the way up from our first night in the Snow Creek Hut. 

Rather than a pretend snowy wilderness, we had to dodge rangers in trucks who were happily driving on the icy asphalt road for the first time of the year.  We hoped to camp in the forest near the beach at the north end of T. Lake, and were not sure if we would be breaking a rule or not at this time of year, but we assumed so.  We made ourselves scarce, they drove off, we slept in guilt, and made the Tuolumne Meadows Ski Hut the following day.  We met up with a few other skiers who had come in from the east by bicycling up to Tioga Pass, and then skiing down the road.  Our goal was to circle back to the Valley via the JMT: Cathedral Pass, Sunrise Camp, Little Yosemite Valley, and the Mist Trail to Happy Valley.  We did it, but we (cringe) walked a lot.

Anticipating the usual long walk up the Snow Creek Trail, and at least some walking on the park road above, Frank and I took our lightest gear: skinny 190 Karhu waxless skis for me, with NNN regular bindings, and I think Frank had similar size skis, with NNN BC bindings. I don't believe either of us brought any skins.  Our packs were light, as we had stashed food in the TM Ski Hut container the autumn before, and very warm weather was forecast.  Franks carries a bivy sack, and I had just the tent-fly of a 2-person tent.

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Here is the recently patched up Snow Creek Ski Hut... without a lot of Snow.


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Inside is a very nice wood-stove, with plenty of wood provided. 


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We had it to ourselves.  It is nice and functional, though I appear confused.


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There is very nice skiing above the hut on the long ridge of Mt. Watkins.  One could have a very nice trip just skiing out of the Snow Creek hut, with tours up to Watkins; all around the surrounding forest, which has some truly gigantic pine and fir trees; and out to other viewpoints.  The hut is around 7,600', and of course the Valley is about 4,000.' From where you leave your car in the Valley, to the S.C. Hut is ~7 miles.  The Snow Cr. Trail is very well-designed, so it's not as painful as it appears on the map, and there are spectacular views. 
If you don't make that long haul to the hut, there is (was?) fantastic camping on the flat plateau just a 1/4 mile east from where the S.C. Trail tops out.  Recently it has been closed to camping due first (I believe) to overuse, and lately because of bear activity in the area. [Does anyone know the whole story?  Did somebody finally get into serious trouble with a bear?]

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Frank on the Watkins Ridge with Cloud's Rest in the background.

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There is a great view of Half Dome and the Valley from up on Watkins.


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Here too we suffered from a lack of snow.  However, Frank and I are not attached to snow on these trips... and sometimes that becomes too literally true!


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Skiing what was left of the snow on the road above Tenaya Lake on our third day.


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The Meadows at last, and enough snow to have some fun.  Dog and Lembert Dome nearby at the left, then Dana and Gibbs, and Mammoth Crest to the right.


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Snow was thin on the ground, but there was enough to tour around.

Below is the Tuolumne Meadows Ski Hut.
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Last edited by Harlen on Sun Apr 26, 2020 11:12 am, edited 21 times in total.








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Re: Skiing a Circle- Yosemite Valley to Tuolumne Meadows and Back, Part 2

Post by Harlen » Fri Apr 03, 2020 2:41 am

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There was also a lot of water, and melted out areas.


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Liquid water can be beautiful too.


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And ice.



Snow or not, Tuolumne Meadows has one of the most vast forests in the range, and the views from up on Lembert and Dog Domes are impressive.
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  Hoffman and Tuolumne Peaks to the west.


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We did a day ski up Budd Creek, and back via Upper Cathedral Lake and the JMT.


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Back to the warmth of the hut. Some more skiers had arrived--we always meet very cool folks up there.


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We did get  few brief snowfalls.


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 Our route back took us up to Cathedral Lake again, and then across Cathedral Pass in the morning.  Here we are in upper Echo Valley, with Cathedral and Echo Peaks hidden in the trees.

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 Don't know where Frank took this shot.  I'm guessing we're on the ridge south of Sunrise Camp, looking south or east.  Might the far peaks be the Clark Range-- Anybody?

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Camp above Little Yosemite Valley.  We had been skiing a lot on pine needles and mud to get there, and we pretty much walked the rest.
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Re: Skiing a Circle- Yosemite Valley to Tuolumne Meadows and Back- Part 3

Post by Harlen » Fri Apr 03, 2020 3:07 am

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Hiking down and out from LYV with no snow turned into one of the highlights of the whole trip!  The snow from above was now pouring through the canyons as white water. It was as if we had magically landed in the Pacific Northwest, complete with light snow then rain, and misty mossy forests with gigantic trees hanging over us, and the water everywhere.  The Merced River running through here could've passed for a stream pouring down from the Olympics. This was our ninth and final day; we had spent 5 nights in the two huts, and 3 camping out. Yes, it was a pretty cushy trip.


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I feel that this stretch of the Merced is as pretty as any river in the range- especially when one is all alone with it.  We absolutely loved our final day, and tried our best to slow down and take it all in.
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Re: Skiing a Circle- Yosemite Valley to Tuolumne Meadows and Back

Post by c9h13no3 » Fri Apr 03, 2020 8:43 am

T-shirt skiing corn snow is my favorite. No avalanche danger, no cold weather. Only unpleasant part is you have to wake up early. Looks like a pretty awesome trip once you got up there.
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Re: Skiing a Circle- Yosemite Valley to Tuolumne Meadows and Back

Post by Harlen » Sun Apr 05, 2020 5:46 pm

Adrenaline writes:
Looks like a pretty awesome trip once you got up there.
Thanks for the lone comment. Yes it was nice. There is just so much to do out of TMeadows! You can start in almost any direction, and day-tour for any length you like- from dark to dark long tours up Dana, or to the base of Mt. Conness, to brilliant short day-tours- one favorite is up Budd Creek, another is up the JMT to Cathedral Lakes; and for the AT downhill crowd- the slopes around the Unicorn. On rest days, there are the mellowest, shortest tours (3 or 4 per day between meals) around the wide meadows; out to Soda Springs; up Lembert Dome, or the fun circle around it. At sunset Happy hour on "Puppy Dome" where medicinal brandy and Coors beer* is served! We will sure miss our time up there, as I had bigger new plans for short overnight tours. I hope you guys are managing to get out; it helps that you are running- you will be harder to catch. :nod:

*It's the water.

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C9, Here are the Unicorn and Altusky Peaks. This is the area closest to the TM Ski Hut, where most of the bc skiing is done. Those can be reached in a long hour from the hut by the fit. Note the concerning cornices- not common in Spring.



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Name that lake?
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Re: Skiing a Circle- Yosemite Valley to Tuolumne Meadows and Back

Post by c9h13no3 » Mon Apr 06, 2020 8:54 am

Harlen wrote:
Sun Apr 05, 2020 5:46 pm
Name that lake?
Given that we're talking Cathedral range skiing, I'd guess Elizabeth? But the photo doesn't seem to line up right, and the rock looks a little chossy to be Cathedral range granite.
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Re: Skiing a Circle- Yosemite Valley to Tuolumne Meadows and Back

Post by torpified » Mon Apr 06, 2020 7:15 pm

thanks for this! I needed, and appreciated, the diversion. Your multi-modal trip looks tremendously fun. I think I'd get a big kick out of skiing on snow I'd encounter a few days later as a waterfall raging with snowmelt.

I had no idea that there was a Snow Creek ski hut. My investigations uncovered a website suggesting that the hut was difficult to locate, and advising first-timers to go with somebody who'd already been there. How did the thing ever get discovered to begin with? And what became of the plan to set up a system of ski huts circling Yosemite? It seems like a good plan.

Have you ever, in your to-ings and fro-ings, encounter Tuolumne's famous winter rangers? It must be very weird to be them this winter.

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Re: Skiing a Circle- Yosemite Valley to Tuolumne Meadows and Back

Post by bobby49 » Mon Apr 06, 2020 8:09 pm

torpified wrote:
Mon Apr 06, 2020 7:15 pm
How did the thing ever get discovered to begin with?
I first stayed at the Snow Creek Cabin in March 1980. I was on a ski trip that went from the valley to T.M. and back, so we spent one night there on the way up and one night on the way down. Here is my understanding. Back in the 1930s, they wanted to have a downhill ski area inside Yosemite Park, and maybe get it going in time for a winter Olympics. So, they first went up toward Mount Hoffman and scouted all of those hills. Due to the amount of time expected for scouting in that direction, they first built the cabin as a base of operations. Later on, they decided on Badger Pass, so the cabin was abandoned. Mister Black Bear decided to make that his base of operations, so the bear knocked a hole in one wall for easier entry. After a while, you can just imagine what the place looked like and smelled like. Then in the 1960s, it became a commune. There was a seasonal park ranger and some other people who wanted to live that close to Yosemite Valley, so it was something like two men, three women, four cats and a dog. Soon later, the park superintendent found out about it, so he had all of them chased out and the place was padlocked. NPS figured that it would be a good location for a rescue cache, so NPS held the only keys. When I got there in 1980, we had two rangers with the key, so we were legal. The kitchen still contained some of the food items left behind from the commune days, like a gigantic tin of cayenne and one of cinnamon. Eventually the place was cleaned up and fixed up, and then became useable as a ski hut. It's really not that hard to find unless the snow is deep. 37degrees47min17secNorth 119degrees31min21secWest about 7750' el.

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Re: Skiing a Circle- Yosemite Valley to Tuolumne Meadows and Back

Post by wildhiker » Mon Apr 06, 2020 9:44 pm

Harlen's last picture is captioned "Name that lake?". Looks like Lake Catherine to me in the Ritter Range, with the glacier in the background between Mount Ritter and Banner Peak.
-Phil

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Re: Skiing a Circle- Yosemite Valley to Tuolumne Meadows and Back

Post by Harlen » Mon Apr 06, 2020 10:11 pm

Phil got it of course:
Harlen's last picture is captioned "Name that lake?". Looks like Lake Catherine to me in the Ritter Range, with the glacier in the background between Mount Ritter and Banner Peak.
There's no fooling a "Wildhiker."

Apologies to C9; it wasn't fair to throw in an unrelated location. Interesting history bobby relates--Yosemite might have been the site of the Winter Olympics?! I had also heard of the Black Bear takeover, and more recently, the Hut was locked up do to excessive partying in it, supposedly by Park staff people?

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